Lazy 8 Airplane Maneuver

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The lazy 8 is another advanced training maneuver requiring preplanning, coordination, and timing. One interesting aspect of this maneuver is that there are almost as many ways of performing it as there are pilots. However, two common denominators emerge: The lazy 8 is a superb training maneuver for everyone, and the lazy 8 can be unequalled in frustration for those who do not understand the various aspects of it. For those unfortunate pilots who draw an instructor who doesn’t personally understand a lazy 8, life can be pretty miserable.

The lazy 8 is really a fairly simple maneuver if you are well schooled in your basics and the use of outside visual references. The lazy 8 is a compound training maneuver combining just about all of the aspects involved in flight and garners its name from the fact that the nose of the aircraft will scribe an 8 lying on its side as the maneuver unfolds. If you had a pencil attached to the spinner on the nose of your aircraft, the climbs, turns, and descents of this constantly changing ballet would draw an 8 lying on its side. In the performance of a lazy 8, the controls are always moving; bank is never constant, heading is never constant, and altitude is never constant. The lazy 8 is a graceful, ever-changing, symmetrical dance through the sky.

And one more important note: The lazy 8 is the only flight maneuver I am familiar with that cannot be done by rote. If the pilot performing the lazy 8 doesn’t really understand them, it is abundantly evident from the beginning. I have had applicants for a commercial license try to sneak an ugly lazy 8 past me on more than one occasion. It is sort of like trying to hide a fire in the dark.

To begin your practice of the lazy 8, climb to at least 1500 feet and align your aircraft crosswind as you did for the chandelle. For the same reasons as the chandelle, all turns are made into the wind. Five outside visual reference points are needed to help you complete a lazy 8. These reference points have to be on the horizon directly in front of your aircraft and at each 45 degrees of turn. In other words, the five reference points begin with the first directly ahead and one at each of the 45-, 90-, 135-, and 180-degree points.

A well-executed lazy 8 begins and is completed at the same altitude and airspeed. For this reason, power selection is an important factor. You don’t want too much power, which can cause you to gain more altitude than you can comfortably lose. On the other hand, too little power can cause too little altitude gain and destroys the symmetry of the lazy 8. So choose a power setting that allows you to begin at or slightly below maneuvering speed, and you should be very close.

Unlike the chandelle, where you began the roll and then initiated the pitch, the lazy 8 calls for a simultaneous initiation of both bank and pitch. And the bank and pitch are begun slowly. Remember the name—lazy 8. It’s not an accelerated 8 or an abrupt 8.

Slowly and smoothly begin the pitch and bank simultaneously. The pitch and bank are continuously and slowly increased until your aircraft arrives at the 45-degree point of your turn as the highest pitch is reached and your bank is arriving at about 15 degrees. At this time, due to very slow airspeed and high angle of attack, continued application of bank can cause your aircraft to lose some of its vertical lift. The aircraft will then fly down through the horizon at about the 90-degree point of the turn as your bank reaches the 30-degree point.

As you pass through the 90-degree point, some backpressure is released and your bank is reversed so you arrive at the 135-degree point with your bank back to 15 degrees again and your nose as much below the horizon as it was above it at the 45-degree point. The purpose of the nose being equidistant above and below the horizon is to help ensure maximum symmetry during the maneuver.

From the 135-degree point, continue to slowly reduce the bank and adjust your pitch so that you arrive at the 180-degree point just as the wings come level and your airspeed and altitude return to their initial starting point. To complete the lazy 8, follow the same procedure in the opposite direction. Remember, it takes two 180-degree turns to properly complete a lazy 8.

Your timing and coordination are very important to the symmetry of the lazy 8. At no time during the maneuver should your controls be held constant. The pitch and bank are constantly changing during the climbing and descending turns, and corrections for torque and P-factor are needed during the climbing portions of the maneuver. This leads to a cross-controlled situation in the climbing turn to the left since the bank is continuously increasing as you turn in this direction. If right rudder is added to aid in overcoming torque (or no correction is made), then a situation is set up where you are either cross-controlled and coordinated or in a slipping turn.

There are three distinct errors common while learning to execute a lazy 8. The most common is to hurry the maneuver. As I mentioned previously, it is not called an accelerated 8; it should be done as slowly and as smoothly as possible for the best outcome.

The second most common error is for the longitudinal axis of the aircraft to pass through the horizon either too early or too late. It should fly through the horizon at exactly the 90-degree point. If the longitudinal axis passes through the horizon too early, you will usually complete the maneuver at an altitude much lower than the altitude at which you entered. This is because passing through the horizon early allows the aircraft more time to descend and it winds up using this time to descend more than it climbed, thus destroying the symmetry of the maneuver. Conversely, if the longitudinal axis passes through the horizon late, the maneuver will be completed at an altitude higher than the original. The reason for this is the exact opposite of passing through the horizon too early. The aircraft will not have as much time to descend, and this causes the maneuver to end up at an altitude higher than the one from which you started. You can cheat and force your aircraft to return to the original altitude, but the symmetry is destroyed and you make little gain in understanding the precision involved in mastering this maneuver.

The third most common error concerns power selection. The correct power setting is essential if the lazy 8 is to be performed with any degree of symmetry. For example, the power setting you choose on a day when you are the only person on board with half tanks of fuel and an outside air temperature of 35°F will be quite different than if you are loaded with full fuel on a very hot day. The reasoning behind this involves your power-to-weight ratio. If your aircraft is light and the day is cool, you require less power to lift the weight. So if you use too much power, you gain more altitude than you can lose without exceeding your entry airspeed, causing you to wind up higher at the end of the maneuver than you were at the entry. On the other hand, if you select too little power for a given day, you will not climb enough to make your lazy 8 symmetrical. So before you initiate your lazy 8, give some serious thought to what power setting should be right for the conditions you have on this particular day. Don’t try to use the same power settings day in and day out; it won’t work. Remember what I told you earlier. The lazy 8 is the only maneuver I know of that cannot be done by rote. The lazy 8 is either performed correctly or not at all.

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